Following the September run of Akram Khan’s Giselle on the English National Ballet, Dada Masilo brings her own version of the classic ballet to Sadler’s Wells in London. Her captivating 70-minute dance sets Giselle in a South African village and will spend nearly a month touring the UK – thanks to the Dance Consortium. The choreography in Dada Masilo’s Giselle incorporates traditional African Tswana dance alongside ballet and contemporary dance.

The rich blend of movement is paired with a contemporary sound score composed by Masilo’s countryman, Philip Miller. The music references Adolphe Adam’s original score from 1841 and combines it with African percussion and vocals. After kicking off the tour in London, Masilo’s energetic show will also visit Birmingham, Brighton and Canterbury, among other destinations.

Dancer: Llewellyn Mnguni, as Myrtha
Photo credit: Laurent Philippe

Dada Masilo

Dancer and choreographer Dada Masilo was born near Johannesburg, South Africa; and it was here that she studied at The Dance Factory, where she is currently an Artist in Residence. She then spent two years at the Performance Arts Research and Training Studios (PARTS) in Brussels before returning to her home country. Masilo’s version of Swan Lake is one of her most famous pieces; it played at The Joyce Theater in New York City – and earned her a Bessie nomination.

“Masilo has placed herself as an internationally acclaimed choreographer, known to deconstruct all-time classic ballets into powerfully grounded, hip-shaking, moves of African dance that tell the story… of modern characters that suffer modern-day issues.”

– Diana Vernon, The Culture Trip
Dancer: Liyabuya Gongo, as Bathilde
Photo credit: Stella Olivier

Dada Masilo: Giselle Review

Although there’s a brief pause (too short to be an interval), Dada Masilo’s contemporary Giselle efficiently marches through the coy courtship of Giselle and Albrecht to the bitter betrayal and the grand finale of self-served vindication. And it’s not only the plot that moves quickly – the vigorous choreography whizzes by, too.

The movement pulls from multiple dance styles, but they’re not highlighted in distinct sections. Rather, they appear in brief flashes: stomping and thrusting the chest forward, spinning with the leg arched in back attitude and falling into floor-work phrases. Perhaps it’s the sheer speed that unifies the piece.

Photo credit: Laurent Philippe

Or perhaps it’s the raw, honest quality of the dance. Giselle’s shoulders shrug up to her ears when her mother swats at her bare breasts with a broom. Albrecht and Hilarion curse as they shove each other onto the floor during their scuffle. And the townspeople don’t silently watch Giselle’s humiliation when Albrecht callously spurns her; they openly mock her, screeching with laughter.

Dancers: Thami Tshabalala and Liyabuya Gongo, as Wilis
Photo credit: Stella Olivier

Dada Masilo shines in her solo as Giselle embodies her grief and anger – again, vulnerable and bare chested. The villagers desert her, followed by Albrecht. Yet, she continues to dance, mixing movement phrases from her previous duets with Albrecht and other repetitive gesticulations. Her movement, while quick, isn’t frenzied; Masilo even slows her deliberate choreography before she huddles on the floor in death.

The second part of Giselle departs even more from the traditional production in both the dance style and the narrative. The Wilis (of both genders) are clad in scarlet. They move as a unit, adroitly and menacingly, like their powerful leader, Myrtha (Llewellyn Mnguni), who directs with a talisman in hand.

Dancer: Liyabuya Gongo, as Bathilde
Photo credit: Laurent Philippe

Crisp cracking noises fill the air when Giselle thwacks the ground with a whip, and eventually proud Albrecht looks for forgiveness. However, his late repentance seems disingenuous; and Giselle and Myrtha remain steadfast, extracting the ultimate revenge…

Giselle pauses by his body for a moment, releases her anger by tossing a cloud of white powder of her head – and steps over him. She freely carries on, walking off the stage, with a slight sway in her hips.

Star Rating:

Dancer: Llewellyn Mnguni, as Myrtha
Photo credit: Stella Olivier

Have you seen Giselle as a traditional ballet – or re-imagined as a modern dance piece? We’d love to hear about the shows you’ve seen in the comments below!


Disclosure: Dance Dispatches received free admission to write an open and honest dance review about Dada Masilo’s Giselle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *